FOOTBALL: Rolling In The Deep
After Struggling In The Bend-Don't-Break System, BC's Secondary Is Ready To Break Out
Published: Thursday, September 5, 2013
Updated: Thursday, September 5, 2013 01:09
As in everyday life, there’s an apprehension on the gridiron of having to grow up too fast.
Youth atop a depth chart is quickly perceived as a lack of veteran leadership, vulnerability to error, or simply a wealth of inexperience with the speed and physicality of college football. True freshmen can survive, but doubters wonder if they ever thrive after being immediately thrown into the lion’s den.
On paper, the Boston College football team’s defensive secondary falls into this stereotype. A starting unit that has suffered through two losing seasons still does not feature a single senior. Yet this tightly knit group on BC’s roster has played side by side for the better part of two seasons, as each player was thrust into the spotlight early in his college career when a void needed to be filled.
Fighting together through campaigns full of growing pains and adjustments has rendered the secondary one of the Eagles’ most potent weapons. In the eyes of new defensive coordinator Don Brown, the starting four of BC’s defensive backfield—juniors Sean Sylvia, Manny Asprilla, Spenser Rositano, and sophomore Bryce Jones—are survivors.
“In some respects, you can stay out there and get your nose bloodied down the field,” Brown said, “or you can make something happen.”
Through 42 combined career starts, the defensive backs have clawed their way to survival alongside each other and—in the eyes of their coaching staff—grown into the leaders that a potent defense requires.
Now they’re ready to win.
While he enters the year sporting a new look without his trademark locks, nothing else about the high-energy, hard-hitting persona of Sylvia has changed since his breakout performance in 2012.
“Sean Sylvia is Sean Sylvia,” Brown said. “It’s who he is—tough, physical, good coverage skills.”
The junior safety is coming off an 86-tackle season in which he tallied a highlight-reel performance against ACC foe Clemson, picking off quarterback Tajh Boyd with a diving interception. His statistical credentials and the animated on-field antics he uses to motivate teammates have earned Sylvia the image of defensive anchor in the secondary. Yet the Dartmouth, Mass. native attributes an increased leadership role to his status as elder statesman in a group of young veterans.
“I’m one of the older guys as far as age goes,” Sylvia said, as he enters his fourth year at BC after redshirting as a freshman. “I think just by default I’m taking a little bit more of a leadership role.”
As much as Sylvia has established himself as a playmaker on defense, he’s still on a quest to elevate his game. The time he’s dedicated to mastering pass coverage in camp can help erase memories of Notre Dame’s John Goodman beating him to the corner of the end zone for a momentous score on a cold Saturday night last November. If Sylvia reaches the apex of his potential, BC will be spending more time rallying around his own signature on-field celebrations than watching opponents’ touchdown dances.
Yet a potent defense is no one-man show, so the success of BC’s secondary unit also rides on the shoulders of Sylvia’s lieutenants.
Alongside Sylvia in the BC defensive alignment stands junior safety Spenser Rositano. Since appearing in 11 games as a true freshman, the Ashburn, Va. native and former high school baseball standout has quietly set the tone for BC’s defense through his unwavering work ethic and accountability. He’s set a positive example for his teammates that head coach Steve Addazio hopes to replicate as he builds a winning program at BC.
“He’s a very serious guy,” Addazio said of Rositano. “He’s a smart guy. So I just think you’d consider him as a guy that’s trustworthy in terms of doing his job.”
Rositano’s emphasis isn’t on glitz or style points, but he has often asserted himself in the right place at the right time. Three interceptions, a blocked field goal on special teams, and a momentous fumble recovery against Notre Dame last season reinforced his image as a game-changer. Admittedly, the safety has had a penchant for big games and squaring off against high-powered ACC offenses early on his career.
The experience has paid off.
“Playing them has helped me develop more as a player,” Rositano said, “just getting my reads, communicating with the whole secondary. It’s obviously helped me a little bit.”
The steadiness that Rositano provides is complemented by athleticism provided at the corners by his classmate Asprilla and the sophomore Jones. Although he is the youngest member of BC’s defensive back corps, Jones has entered the year with more experience than many sophomore cornerbacks thanks to playing in all 12 games during his freshman year.
His time as Most Valuable Player of the Lake Erie League back in high school hadn’t prepared him for the speed of collegiate opponents, but learning from his veteran teammates on the field has.
“They’ve been here longer so I feed off of them,” Jones said. “I just keep my mouth shut and listen, pay attention, watch, and learn from them.”
At the corner position, Jones has found a role model in Asprilla. The Everett, Mass. native is a season removed from being only one of three Eagles to compete in over 1,000 plays on the gridiron. While that statistic is evidence of Asprilla’s durability, his style of play on the field reflects a natural athletic gift that wasn’t as apparent in last year’s defensive scheme. An impressive showing in week one offered a glimpse at the junior’s potential within a new game plan.
Plays like his interception against Villanova are reasons for praise from the Eagle coaching staff. Whenever a corner can anticipate the decisions of a dual-threat quarterback, switch directions on the fly, and hit the turf with a tumbling grab secured in his hands, a head coach knows he’s working with a special player.